NFL's biggest surprises through two games

Through Week 2, the Patriots look like the league’s best team, and their fill-in quarterback, Jimmy Garoppolo, ranks No. 1 in Total QBR. The Seahawks, meanwhile, have scored just 15 total points and have issues along the offensive line.

NFL Nation reporters pick the biggest surprises so far for each team.

NFC East | NFC North | NFC South | NFC West
AFC East | AFC North| AFC South | AFC West

NFC EAST

Dallas Cowboys

The play of quarterback Dak Prescott.

How can I not go with the rookie? Although he doesn’t have a touchdown pass, he has not had a pass intercepted in 75 attempts. He delivered a game-winning, fourth-quarter drive last week against Washington and nearly had the Cowboys in position for a game-winning field goal attempt in Week 1 against the Giants. Prescott has made it clear that the Cowboys are still Tony Romo’s team, but he is doing what he can to make sure it’s in good condition when Romo returns. — Todd Archer

New York Giants

The Giants haven’t been just competent defensively — they’ve been good.

The league’s 32nd-ranked unit from last season ranks in the top 10 in just about every category through two weeks, despite playing the high-octane Saints in Week 2. Cornerback Janoris Jenkins‘ dominance has been a major part of the resurgence. He has outplayed his large contract ($62.5 million) the first two games, as he ranks as Pro Football Focus’ No. 4 cornerback. — Jordan Raanan

Philadelphia Eagles

Coach Doug Pederson’s debut.

Sure, rookie quarterback Carson Wentz is a great answer, but as the No. 2 overall pick in the draft, Wentz came in with some high expectations. Pederson — not so much. He was a high school coach as recently as 2008 and an offensive coordinator with limited playcalling responsibilities while with the Chiefs, so there were some concerns about whether he was ready to be a head coach. Not all those concerns have been assuaged in two weeks’ time, but the Eagles have been sharp out of the gate under Pederson’s command. — Tim McManus

Washington Redskins

Quarterback Kirk Cousins’ unsteady start.

I did not think he was a budding star ready to elevate into a top-10 quarterback. I felt he’d be in that middle range, a guy capable of really good games but who needs help from those around him. Cousins, however, has struggled more in two games than I would have anticipated, especially because the throws he has missed have often been to open targets. The Redskins need him to start hitting more of these throws, and if he does, they can recover from an 0-2 start to be much more competitive. But Cousins’ struggles also highlight the lack of help from other aspects, namely the defense. It has struggled for far too long, due in part to some neglect, and it’s inexcusable. — John Keim

NFC NORTH

Chicago Bears

The offense is worse than expected.

Chicago has surrendered eight sacks and converted only eight of 23 third-down attempts (34.8 percent) in two games. Losing running back Matt Forte, tight end Martellus Bennett and playcaller Adam Gase in the offseason hurt, but no one thought the offense would completely tank. Factor in quarterback Jay Cutler‘s right thumb injury, and things are about to go from bad to worse. — Jeff Dickerson

Detroit Lions

Defensive tackle Kerry Hyder‘s immediate impact.

While the Lions’ run game has surprised, the biggest shock has to be Hyder. The defensive lineman was not expected to make Detroit’s roster, but he played well enough during training camp to force his way onto the 53-man roster. Then he had two sacks of Colts quarterback Andrew Luck in the season opener and picked up a third sack last week. He’s tied for second in the NFL with three sacks and could be in line for a starting spot if Ezekiel Ansah is unable to play because of a high ankle sprain. Hyder is one of the best stories of this young NFL season. — Michael Rothstein

Green Bay Packers

A stellar run defense.

A year ago, the Packers had the NFL’s second-worst run defense. Two games into this season, theirs is the best. After holding running back Adrian Peterson to just 19 yards rushing and the Vikings to only 30 yards as a team, the Packers’ rushing average dropped to just 39 yards allowed per game. Last year at this time, they were giving up an average of 154 yards rushing per game. Led by defensive tackle Mike Daniels, defensive coordinator Dom Capers finally appears to have his run defense fixed. — Rob Demovsky

Minnesota Vikings

Few open holes in the running game.

The Vikings have leaned on their running game for years, constructing a run-first offense even as many of their counterparts shifted away from a heavy ground game. The inability of the Vikings’ retooled offensive line to open holes for Adrian Peterson, however, has the running back sitting with just 50 yards through two games. With Peterson in danger of missing time because of a torn meniscus, the Vikings will have to try to improve their running game with different pieces. — Ben Goessling

NFC SOUTH

Atlanta Falcons

Pass-rusher Vic Beasley Jr. still hasn’t played up to his potential.

The eighth overall pick in 2015 was credited with the team’s only sack this season, but that came as a result of Raiders quarterback Derek Carr‘s running out of bounds for no gain. After a lackluster preseason, the expectation was for Beasley to flash more often once the regular season started. Well, it hasn’t happened, so there has to be an extreme amount of concern within the Falcons’ organization. — Vaughn McClure

Carolina Panthers

Wide receiver Devin Funchess hasn’t produced.

If you recall, I said right here that the second-year wide receiver was playing so well that he might have a better season than Kelvin Benjamin. Through two games, Funchess has three catches for 28 yards and a touchdown. Benjamin has 13 catches for 199 yards and three touchdowns. Funchess’ touchdown came late against San Francisco, when the outcome had been decided. That isn’t to say his production won’t pick up, but so far, it has been less than imagined. — David Newton

New Orleans Saints

Injuries have decimated the cornerback group.

The Saints’ top three cornerbacks right now are Sterling Moore, who signed two weeks ago, and undrafted rookies De’Vante Harris and Ken Crawley. Nobody could have imagined that two months ago. But that was before injuries knocked Keenan Lewis and Damian Swann off the roster this summer and sidelined Delvin Breaux and P.J. Williams over the past two weeks. Almost as surprising is how well the Saints’ makeshift secondary played last week at New York. They’ll need to keep holding things together until Breaux and Williams come back. — Mike Triplett

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Wide receiver Vincent Jackson‘s poor start.

The veteran has been the most consistent and reliable target for the Buccaneers since he arrived in 2012. But through two games, he has managed just six catches for 62 receiving yards, and quarterback Jameis Winston has been picked off in back-to-back weeks on passes intended for him. Coach Dirk Koetter even acknowledged that their chemistry is off. Is it lack of chemistry or the beginning of a steep decline for Jackson, now 33 and in his 12th season? He might hit his stride a few games into the season, but given his importance to this offense the past four years, his struggles are startling. — Jenna Laine

NFC WEST

Arizona Cardinals

The rise of cornerback Marcus Cooper.

Earlier this month, the Cardinals gave up a conditional 2018 seventh-round pick to acquire Cooper, and he already has a two-interception game. A former seventh-round pick by the 49ers who didn’t make the team out of training camp, Cooper’s recent history didn’t suggest he’d be an impact performer. He played a combined 362 snaps for the Chiefs the past two seasons, so there was some skepticism surrounding the deal. But the Cardinals needed a cornerback opposite Patrick Peterson, and Cooper has shown that he can fit well in the Cardinals’ defensive scheme. — Josh Weinfuss

Los Angeles Rams

Running back Todd Gurley‘s struggles.

It’s hard to turn anywhere besides Gurley here. He is the star of the Rams, a player who was expected to solidify himself as one of the game’s most dominant rushers, thanks to a full, healthy training camp. But Gurley has gained only 98 yards on 36 carries through his first two games, and the problem lies mostly with what surrounds him. The Rams simply don’t possess the passing threat that would keep opposing defenses from focusing almost solely on Gurley. He has averaged only 0.89 yards before contact, which ranks third-worst in the NFL. — Alden Gonzalez

San Francisco 49ers

The O-line has been better than expected.

Much about the 49ers’ offense has gone as expected, but there’s a notable exception to be made in the form of the offensive line. Getting a healthy Daniel Kilgore back at center, adding Zane Beadles at left guard and another offseason to develop right guard Andrew Tiller and right tackle Trent Brown have given rock-solid left tackle Joe Staley the requisite help to put together a solid unit. The Niners have allowed just two sacks through the first two game. Although the run blocking could be more consistent, this is clearly a better group than it was a year ago, when the 49ers were plagued by injuries and departures. — Nick Wagoner

Seattle Seahawks

That the offense has been this bad.

The Seahawks generally struggle early in the season, but 15 total points in two games against the Dolphins and Rams is a surprise, especially considering that this unit averaged 31.3 points per game in the second half of 2015. Quarterback Russell Wilson‘s high ankle sprain has been a factor, and the offensive line struggles were to be expected. History shows that the Seahawks usually figure out solutions, but they’re dealing with a hobbled Wilson for the first time and face several Super Bowl contenders (Patriots, Panthers, Packers and Cardinals) in the second half of the season. In other words, they need to take care of business against the 49ers and Jets the next two weeks. — Sheil Kapadia

AFC EAST

Buffalo Bills

The struggles of cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore and Ronald Darby.

A national television audience watched Gilmore and Darby, a duo Pro Football Focus considered one of the NFL’s best last season, get torched by the Jets’ Brandon Marshall and Quincy Enunwa to the tune of 193 receiving yards. Maybe it was an aberration, or perhaps coach Rex Ryan can no longer rely on what he thought was the strength of his defense. — Mike Rodak

Miami Dolphins

The running game has stalled.

Behind a revamped offensive line, it is surprising that Miami’s running backs can’t get anything going and are averaging just 3.3 yards per carry. Starter Arian Foster is the main culprit. He’s averaging 2.9 yards per carry and is already dealing with a groin injury. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill leads the team in rushing with 52 yards and a touchdown, which sums up the current state of the Dolphins’ running game. — James Walker

New England Patriots

The play of quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.

The past two offseasons, questions swirled about what the Patriots had in Garoppolo, and even though it has been only six quarters of play in the 2016 regular season, that has been enough to make the decisive statement that Garoppolo is a worthy starter in the NFL with growth potential. As for what this means for the future, Tom Brady is 39 and under contract through 2019, while Garoppolo is 24 and under contract through 2017. How do the Patriots proceed at QB with those dynamics in play? It’s one of the more fascinating storylines in the NFL. — Mike Reiss

New York Jets

Cornerback Darrelle Revis has struggled.

That isn’t surprising; it’s stunning. At 31, he isn’t expected to be the shutdown corner he was in 2009, but no one expected him to get burned for 54- and 84-yard touchdowns in the first two games. He’s giving too much cushion, perhaps because he’s concerned about getting beaten deep. But on deep balls, he has lacked catch-up speed. — Rich Cimini

AFC NORTH

Baltimore Ravens

Neither running back has been explosive.

Justin Forsett and Terrance West were supposed to have a heated competition. Two games into the season, they have become a concern. Forsett and West haven’t broken a run longer than 11 yards. Forsett is averaging 3.3 yards per carry, and West has struggled just as much at 3.2 yards per carry. Baltimore ranks 29th in the NFL with a 3.0 yard per carry average. — Jamison Hensley

Cincinnati Bengals

Issues with the ground game.

The Bengals running backs have gone nowhere through two games, averaging only 2.8 yards per carry and 51.5 yards per game. With two talented running backs in Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard, it’s surprising they aren’t moving the ball better on the ground. Perhaps they’ve faced dominant defenses through two weeks — with the Broncos up next — but the plummeting numbers are still head-scratching. — Katherine Terrell

Cleveland Browns

Injuries to two quarterbacks.

The Browns have had more than their share of misfortune, but not even they could have expected the calamity they have encountered with the QB position. First, Robert Griffin III and then Josh McCown were lost to left shoulder injuries, which put rookie Cody Kessler on the field. Meanwhile, every good pass that No. 2 overall pick Carson Wentz throws is like fingernails on a chalkboard to Browns fans. — Pat McManamon

Pittsburgh Steelers

The improved play of the secondary.

We’ve been hard on the Steelers’ pass defense in this space, but the defensive backfield deserves props here. Holding the Bengals to one touchdown and wide receiver A.J. Green to 38 yards is progress. The Steelers have one sack in two games, yet the coverage has held up. Ross Cockrell is making a move into stardom, and the addition of former special-teamer Robert Golden into a starting safety spot has paid dividends thus far. The Steelers have been effective in a third-down dime package with safety Mike Mitchell directing traffic on the back end. This group looks more cohesive than it did a year ago. — Jeremy Fowler

AFC SOUTH

Houston Texans

The play of rookie wide receiver Will Fuller.

Although the Texans had high expectations for their first-round pick, it was a pleasant surprise for Houston that he had back-to-back games of more than 100 receiving yards to open the season. Fuller is the first player in franchise history to do that. Although his issues with drops are still concerning, Fuller is a legitimate threat alongside Pro Bowl receiver DeAndre Hopkins. — Sarah Barshop

Indianapolis Colts

The number of injuries on defense.

Here’s the list of projected starters who have missed one or both of the first two games: defensive lineman Henry Anderson, cornerback Vontae Davis, cornerback Patrick Robinson, safety T.J. Green and safety Clayton Geathers. The high number of injuries on defense means the Colts probably won’t have an idea how they’ll be as a unit until later in the season when everybody is healthy. — Mike Wells

Jacksonville Jaguars

Where’s the run defense?

The Jaguars have been unable to stop the run, which had been the defense’s strength the past several seasons. The Packers and Chargers combined to rush for 245 yards. Nose tackle Roy Miller is healthy and defensive end Jared Odrick has played well against the run, but the Jaguars have been gashed by both Eddie Lacy and Melvin Gordon. If the Jaguars don’t get better against the run this week against the Ravens, it’ll be hard for them to snap their losing streak. — Mike DiRocco

Tennessee Titans

The scoring defense.

The Titans’ defense has given up one touchdown and six field goals through two weeks. The offense killed the Titans in Week 1, with an interception returned for a touchdown and a fumble returned for a touchdown. The Titans haven’t covered very well, but Tennessee has clamped down at the right time and has the second-best red zone TD defense in the league. The Raiders could change things. Quarterback Derek Carr threw for 330 yards in a win in Nashville last season, and all three of his TD passes were inside the red zone. — Paul Kuharsky

AFC WEST

Denver Broncos

A rookie has steadied the offense.

The Broncos had high hopes for fullback Andy Janovich from the moment they made him a sixth-round draft pick in April, and those hopes nudged a little higher as they watched Janovich work in the offense in training camp. But now a team that planned to use a two-back set more than it did last season — the Broncos were in two-back sets just 25 snaps all of 2015 — has already made it one of the mainstays, which has helped new quarterback Trevor Siemian in the process. Janovich has been highly effective as a lead blocker, has a rushing touchdown and will be more involved as a receiver as the season progresses. — Jeff Legwold

Kansas City Chiefs

Back-to-back slow starts.

The Chiefs deserve credit for their comeback in beating the Chargers in the season opener, but otherwise, they haven’t been very competitive, which is a surprising thing for a team that won its final 10 regular-season games (and a playoff game) the past season. The Chiefs had a 3-0 lead for 3:24 in the first quarter against the Chargers before eventually falling behind by 21 points. They didn’t lead against the Chargers again until the game was over, and they didn’t play with the lead last week against the Texans. The Chiefs need to start games more quickly so they aren’t always in desperation mode. That way they can play more to their strengths. Despite having a running game that is fourth in the NFL in yards per carry (5.3), the Chiefs have fewer rushing attempts than all but six teams. — Adam Teicher

Oakland Raiders

The shockingly poor defense.

Sure, management retooled the unit in the wake of retirements by Charles Woodson and Justin Tuck by signing purportedly quality free agents such as Bruce Irvin, Sean Smith and Reggie Nelson. But there are some serious growing pains in the way of more than 1,000 yards of offense surrendered in two games, Irvin having only one sack, Smith getting torched and Nelson often being out of place. Coach Jack Del Rio said players’ “eyes” are not in the right place on defense. Indeed, all eyes are on the defense two weeks in. — Paul Gutierrez

San Diego Chargers

The run defense is much better.

The Chargers gave up 125 yards per game last season, which ranked 27th in the NFL. Through two games this year, San Diego’s defense is allowing just 76 rushing yards per game, which ranks seventh in the league. Free-agent addition nose tackle Brandon Mebane has helped plug the middle for the Chargers defensively. San Diego has trailed for only a little more than half a quarter in two games this season, which has made teams more inclined to throw the football. — Eric D. Williams



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